It’s about that time…time to share what happened during this year’s Dole Summit! Nine other bloggers convened at the Four Seasons Westlake for two and a half days of food, relaxation and a bundle of exchanged information about Dole Packaged Foods. Many people recognize Dole by products around grocery stores, but the internal team who handles canned, jarred, frozen and dried fruits are completely different than the folks who work on the fresh produce side. We had the chance to meet and greet the Dole Packaged Foods team who answered oh so many questions, while also filling us in on the ways in which Dole wants to be part of your healthy lifestyle! Prepare yourself. This will be a long one…
During the first night’s mixer, we met at Ford’s Filling Station for an evening mixer featuring appetizers from Executive Chef Ben Ford and Dole cocktails created by Jordan of This Girl Walks Into a Bar. The woman of the hour (and the entire weekend, in fact) was Ally of Ally’s Kitchen. She won last year’s Dole Cook-Off with her Harissa Veal Meatball Fruit Kabobs, so she is the one to beat if you’re going to enter this year! After nibbling on plates and plates of hors d’oeuvres (and one too many of Jordan’s Golden Summer Cocktail), it was time for the entire group to make the cross-city trip from Culver City to Westlake for a fantastic night’s sleep. Of course, there are some of us who decided to dip into the hot tub and have a bit of wine. Because how else should you end a great evening?
The next day was a doozy. During a light breakfast, we had time to casually chat with Brad Bartlett, President of Dole Packaged Foods, Barbara Vass, Director of Marketing, and Michael Contreras, Senior Digital Marketing Manager. Immediately after breakfast, we walked through the building to the test kitchen, home to Donna Skidmore, Director of Consumer Services. It was here that we sampled Fruit Squish’ems, which are fun, vacuum-packed snacks. Unlike other similar products, the fresh fruits for each variety are heated and cooked in less than 80 seconds, then quickly cooled and packaged. This helps to retain up to 95% of the original vitamins and minerals. Fruit Squish’ems would be great for kids, especially little sporty ones.
Amelia of Eating Made Easy is a nutritionist and blogger with sharp eyes and good questions. She made sure to read and question any labels, especially when it came to added sugars. Although the Dole Shakers Nutrition Plus smoothies featured fruits and vegetables in a shake-on-the-go, they did contain added sugar. They are a good drink option for people who enjoy smoothies, but want to spend less money on their choices. There is also a little added sugar in the Dole Dippers, which now includes dark and milk chocolate-dipped strawberries. They are only 60 calories per pack though, and that is a fantastic snack to keep in the freezer. If you are concerned about extra calories from sugar, the No Sugar Added Fruit Bowls utilize monk fruit concentrate to pack peaches and mandarin oranges. It’s a newer natural sweetener derived from fruit native to parts of China and Southeast Asia, and it is available in stores right now.
If we’re going to talk about fruit, we should mention pineapples, right? They are probably the number one thing on your mind when you hear the word Dole. You may not have known that each one takes 18 months to grown. The crowns are chopped off and replanted to grow the next pineapple. When ripe pineapples are cut, the tops are used for canned slices, while the bottom half goes to the crushed variety. The shell and core are used for cattle feed, and those sweet cows provide fresh fertilizer. The price of a can of pineapple has only increased about $0.20-0.30 in the last 30 years, so that should give you a good idea how integral it is to the Dole foundation. They love and nurture it like a baby, even packing pineapple juice in steel cans to maintain proper color and prime flavor.
As you can imagine, we were starting to get full, but there was more to come. An absolute favorite sampled item were the new boxed soups! These guys have yet to hit stores, but they will be on shelves very, very soon. There are five flavors, but we only sampled one–Roasted Garlic Tomato Basil. The ingredients in each were simple, natural, preservative-free and low fat. If you are the kind of person who reaches for pre-made soups during the week, or even for lunch at work or school, these soups are really convenient. Plus, they taste very fresh and pure. There are no funky, hard-to-pronounce ingredients in these guys.
Maybe you’re wondering how a company as large as Dole treats its workers, in addition to its sustainability efforts. Most of us didn’t know the company is almost completely GMO-free. Blame it on the pesky papaya. In terms of corporate responsibility, Dole’s farmers are cared for in terms of fair wages, education for children and medical care for families and individuals. It would be amazing to really see the farms and dig two hands into the dirt with other farmers. None of us can forget about the way in which one 18-month old pineapple goes from field to can because many people were involved in that process. When it comes to large-scale food production, caring for the environment is important. They focus on water management, soil conservation, reducing carbon emissions and a “reuse and recycle” packaging policy. Dole is also rainforest alliance certified in the Philippines.
The final day of the Summit concluded with a tour of the California Health & Longevity Institute’s Wellness Kitchen with Registered Dietician Paulette Lambert. First up, we were served a nutrition-packed breakfast prepared by Lambert’s team with a few dishes that highlighted Dole’s dried and frozen fruits. The sweet and savory almond date bars and puffy blintz souffle with blueberry compote were favorites. Following the meal, we toured the Wellness Kitchen, which is open to hotel guests and members of the public via cooking classes and workshops. The kitchen is bright and sunny with so much natural light, and it is gorgeously outfitted with top-of-the-line equipment and ample counter space. Any cook would love to set up shop in this kitchen.
Next up, it was time for ‘lil Ally to take the stage. She gave a short demo of her Jerusalem Fruit Tabbouleh–a Jasmine rice salad scented with allspice and cardamom and studded with mango, dates, apricots and pomegranate seeds. Paulette popped back into the kitchen to demonstrate the remaining five dishes that would comprise the days lunch. As the lucky spectators, we were able to relax with Pineapple Apricot Bellinis. Sometimes it’s nice to let others cook for you! Lunch on the sun-drenched patio was a true blue buffet. The starter was a Gingered Carrot and Orange Soup, followed by Beet and Mandarin Orange Salad, Thai Pineapple Fried Rice with Crispy Tofu, Chili Grilled Shrimp & Peach Skewers and a dessert of Dark Cherry Buttermilk Cake. It was a satisfying meal to mark the end of a really lovely week. The final moments were full of chats with fellow bloggers, sharing stories of upcoming plans and, as expected, our final thanks and goodbyes.
The fun buzz of a blogger trip allows you to brainstorm, share and collaborate with others, but you cannot fully assess until there is quiet. There was time to think about everyone’s kindness–everyone from attendees to the Dole team members, as well as the two major stars at Rogers Finn Partners who assisted in much of the event’s coordination. Dole shed light on its mission, corporate culture, and of course new products, and that information became ours to consider, evaluate and share. We are similar to many within Dole’s consumer base because we’re always looking for new ways to use products we often have on hand. It makes sense to continue that pantry-surfing brainstorming and recipe play with likeminded folks. Finally, open and honest conversations provided a fairly transparent look into a large company’s state of affairs. That does not happen often, and we were all fortunate to take part. Hopefully our respective readers will also find bits and pieces that interest them, while also feeding their bellies with a few fruits and veggies!
Don’t forget to enter the Dole Cook-Off. You want to win $25,000, right? Right! The contest opens this Monday, March 31st, so use this weekend to brainstorm recipe ideas! In the meantime, check out more pictures from this year’s Dole Summit on Instagram and Pinterest if you want to take a peek!
Definitely check out all of the attendees’ blogs for more:
Amelia, Eating Made Easy
Pattie Cordova, Living Mi Vida Loca
Ally Phillips, Ally’s Kitchen
Katie Thompson, Once a Month Meals
Kristy Bernardo, The Wicked Noodle
Leslie Green, Hungry Housewife
Amy Roskelley, Super Healthy Kids
Nikki Gladd, Seeded at the Table
Sara O’Donnell, Average Betty
Catherine Cardelucci, Rabbit Food for My Bunny Teeth
Disclaimer: This Dole Summit was a sponsored event. All opinions expressed here are our own.